An Essential Sandbox: Session 3 Play Report

  • Embra (2nd-level dwarf evocation mage)
  • Meira (2nd-level gnome cunning bard)
  • Thirur (2nd-level dwarf axe slayer)

About a week after their return to Black Hollow, Embra and Thirur were approached by Meira, a gnome bard. She told them that a madness was slowly gripping the people and animals of Aston, a small village several days to the east.

There were numerous hills to the northwest of the village. Based on the descriptions she had receieved, she believed that someone had discovered a burial cairn, opened it, and disturbed a draugr: a powerful undead creature that, in addition to driving the living insane, could grow in size and transform into smoke. They agreed, and after purchasing a wagon and horse with their recently acquired trove, set out.

A few days and a wolf encounter later, they came across the burial mound. It was shrouded in a dense mist, which blocked out most of the sunlight and made it difficult to see more than a dozen or so feet. As they approached, they spotted several dead bodies. Three were human, huddled around an old firepit. The forth was a horse, which looked to have been partially eaten by the men, though they weren't sure if it was out of desperation, madness, or a combination of both.

On close inspection, Meira noticed that one of them was clutching a sack to its chest. She pried its arms apart and took it, but before she could open it the corpse lunged at her, and in a cracking, hollow voice demanded that she return it. Panicked, Meira used her magic to confound the zombie's senses, causing it to stumble directly into the arc of Thirur's axe.

He easily hacked it apart, but the other corpses, including the horse, rose. The zombies staggered towards Meira, continually demanding the sack, while the horse hammered Thirur into the ground with its powerful hooves. Embra unleashed a blast of fire, engulfing all of the undead in flames. The human zombies crumbled apart, but the horse continued to fight until Thirur managed to regain his footing and behead it.

As the flames died down, Meira checked the bag. It was filled with hundreds of small silver pieces embossed with strange signs and a cross. They looked old, which meant they probably belonged to the draugr. They also looked valuable, so she opted to keep them, figuring that they were just going to ultimately destroy the creature anyway.

They circled the mound and found only one entrance, sealed by a heavy stone slab. Thurir heaved it aside and they entered the first chamber. It contained an open, empty stone sarcophagus, surrounded by sacks, wrapped bundles, clay jars, old weapons, and animal skulls. Two more slabs leaned against two of the walls.

Nothing looked to be of any particular value, so they chose another slab at random. But, when Thurir went to move it, it toppled over and shattered on the ground. Oh well: the draugr wasn't in its sarcophagus, so it was likely already aware of their presence. The next chamber was filled with the putrefied remains of some eight would-be graverobbers. Their faces bore expressions of fear and sorrow, and bloody messages were scrawled on the walls.

Unlike the first batch of corpses, none of them were holding anything of value. They were preparing to leave when a deafening howl echoed through chamber, and mist began seeping inside. Soon after a figure materialized behind Meira. It was clad in ancient, battered armor, and its flesh was rotten. It accused her of stealing its treasure, and when she tried inquiring as to who it was, it drew its sword and attacked.

Meira managed to scamper away, while Thirur charged into the fray. Embra hung back, striking it with magic missiles. Once she was confident that it was focused on Thirur and Embra, Meira slid about behind it and began slicing at its legs. It fell to its knees, releasing another deafening scream before dissipating into mist.

Just when they thought they were somewhat safe, the skeletons rose and began clawing at them. Compared to the draugr they were quite frail: Embra's icy blasts were able to take out several at a time, and even Meira found that she was able to easily chop them apart with her magically enhanced blade.

Behind the Scenes
This time I took over GM duties, giving Melissa a chance to try out a character of her own and see how I run the game. She wanted to play a supporting character, and when I listed off the leaders decided on bard (which, as it turns out, she was banking on playing anyway). Despite having silly singing powers, the bard was as fun as I remember (and more fun than bards from other editions/games).

To keep things simple for the kids, rather of giving them a separate level 2 utility to track I folded the benefits of one into their stats. So, instead of the slayer gaining an exploit that gives him temp hp, I just boosted his hit points a bit, and instead of giving the wizard shield (+4 to AC and Reflex against a single attack), I just bumped up her AC and Reflex by a point.

In actual play the game runs just as quickly as Dungeon World, if not quicker due to not having to take the time to come up with soft/hard moves. In fact I'd say that things went faster, since misses don't result in the characters getting potentially boned even harder, such as by having gear lost or damaged (and having to take the time to defy danger to retrieve it, or think of some other way to fight back).

Of course, I can always houserule this stuff in on the fly if I really feel like it. I guess I kind of did: during the first fight, I had the wolves pull a few of the characters out of the wagon. Not "legal", but it made the fight fun and tense, and made sense.

Even better, the game doesn't feel as immediately or accidentally as lethal as Dungeon World.

For example, the horde tag just says, "Where there's one, there's more. A lot more." There's no number range given (unlike group, which is 3-5 "or so"), and one horde monster can differ greatly from another. For example, a cave rat deals 1d6 damage (1 piercing and messy), and has 7 HP, and an Armor of 1, while a shadow has a whopping 11 HP, 4 Armor, and deals 1d6+1 damage.

Even worse it has the special quality "shadow form", which has no established capabilities or limitations, instead being entirely up to the GM. It could mean that normal light keeps them at bay, or maybe only only sunlight is sufficient. It could also mean that they can blend in which shadows, or that they're completely immune to non-magical weapons.

I have more to say about Dungeon World monsters (and character damage), but that'll be for another post. Suffice to say, we're really enjoying getting back into whatever the hell type of game you'd call Dungeons & Dragons.

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After only a couple hours of design and writing, The Swordmage is good to go. If you want a solid fighter/wizard hybrid with twenty-five advanced moves to choose from (in addition to some other extras), pick it up.

Grave Goods is the latest magic item compilation in our 10+ Treasures line. If you want nearly 30 undead-themed magic items, some monsters, and advice on how to make your own, pick it up!

Lichfield is available for public consumption. If you want a concise adventure with a Silent Hill feel, be sure to check it out!

Primordial Machine is also out, so if you want to catch a glimpse of A Sundered World, now's your chance!

Finally, we've updated If These Stones Could Scream.


  1. I think the appropriate handle for games like Dungeons and Dragons is 'Trad'...which always feels like a slur when I read it. Not as much as 'murderhobo' pisses me off of course, but sometimes it seems like it is pretty close in terms of veiled insult.

  2. @John: Trad as in traditional? I'm sure people use it as an insult (or at least try to, or snub their noses at them for whatever reason)), but it just makes me think of classic or old-school games.


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